Evolutionary Questions with Small Unit Tactics in the US Army

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    • #95706
      Max
      Keymaster

        Recently some questions were asked after I posted some footage of US Army units conducting a raid at the Velocity Training Center (VTC). The questions were raised about the tactics that seemed to be in use: what people saw was the assaulting teams moving slowly towards the objective, mainly standing, and engaging on the move from a slow walk. This was a raid iteration that was supported by MVT, but not under the direct instruction for its completion. Sometimes, with the Army units, we run them through training, and other times we facilitate it so they can work on their own training objectives. In response to this question, my answer was that we are “training you to a higher standard at MVT.” By this, I did not mean that MVT civilian students are ‘better’ than these US Army Teams, simply that I believe that the curriculum we use is to a higher infantry standard. Your practical execution of that will depend on the amount you train, the team you work with (or not) and your level of physical readiness.

        There was some other footage, which I did not make public (team internal) of a team running an ‘advance to contact’ on Tactical Range 1 (on to the first double set of pop-up Ivans, for those that know the range, augmented with other steel and stick-in targets). The broad technique was the point team reacted to contact and began to suppress, while the second team deployed to the flank. Thus, we now had two teams on line, in a version of a hasty attack that put the two teams on line together, rather than as a flanking hasty attack. This is all normal for MVT. The difference was that rather than conducting classic fire and movement, the teams did not rush forward in ‘short bounds’ when it was their turn to move, but instead got up and walked forward slowly, firing as they went. Thus, it was an impressive amount of firepower for this different take on a squad assault in teams, but the guys were up walking slowly for a long period of time. This continued up until the final assault position, where the whole squad went forward at the walk for the assault through.

        This brought home to me something an infantry NCO had said to me about close ambush drills, where he did not like the idea of taking cover, because he felt that delay in the RTR drill where you fired, but then took cover before firing again, would take his weapon out of the fight and maybe get his buddy killed. The problem is, if you have been ambushed by one done passably well, it will be a wall of fire and staying upright will get you killed, and then you will be out of the fight. This is mainly why ‘close ambush drills’ of the charge through type went out of the British Infantry a long time ago. Even Rhodesian Light Infantry would conduct RTR, cover shoot (Drake Method), then fight through at the buddy rush. Particularly where you have been taken by surprise and in that moment do not know exactly where the enemy is. But since then, I have seen much anecdotal footage of SOF training where guys are reacting to contact and doing a walking facing movement and walking slowly into the contact, firing. I have not seen an AAR, but could this partially be a reason for the casualties in the recent Mali ambush? We will probably never know.

        I had a couple of conversations with Scott (First Sergeant) about this. I have been racking my brain trying to assess the right and wrong of it, the advantages and disadvantages of it. Was it possible that due to advancements in CQB techniques and thus walking and shooting techniques, that the team guys had just come up with a better way of doing fire and movement? Surely with everyone firing all the time, the position would be better suppressed? After all, CQB is all about fast hands, brain and eyes, but slow feet. Am I simply an old school dinosaur who needs to get with it? Etc. Scott is of the opinion, and he can jump in to clarify if he wishes, that this has come from the influence of Ranger Regiment on Army tactics. Regiment has been doing CQB raid tasks for a long time, which is why they are known as ‘baby Delta’ and his opinion is that they have institutionally forgotten the art of SUT. Now, Ranger School is somewhere that they use SUT as a vehicle for leadership development. But Ranger School is not Ranger Regiment. I once had a discussion with a Ranger NCO and he mentioned Ranger School and dismissed it, saying that when they get back to Regiment, they tell them to forget all about that and work on actual Regiment SOPs, which is of course mainly raid and CQB techniques. Of course you do not get to Ranger School until you get into a leadership position in Ranger Regiment. How exactly true all this is I do not know, but it is relevant anecdote. Could this CQB influence be pervading SOF and even infantry units, with a discarding of true SUT techniques, to the detriment?

        In the tactical classes at MVT, we teach you fire and movement. This is based on a high infantry standard. We teach buddy pair, then team, and on more advanced classes we run squad level tactics, such as the hasty attack and raid. It is important to note that you will not be able to advance on an enemy position by fire and movement unless you have it suppressed. Even when running team drills where we assault the ‘whole valley’ the context of this is made clear – this is a drill, and in reality you would need a support by fire element. You need to locate, identify and suppress the enemy before you can start to bound up to him by buddy rushes. Depending on the fire coming back at you, and the level of suppression you can achieve, you may even end up doing buddy rushes at the crawl.

        Once the final assault position is reached, maybe 15 – 25 yards from the enemy position (doctrinally, you would use grenade throwing range), we used to teach to break the team down from pairs back into buddy fire and movement, thus having within the 4 man team, two buddy pairs operating next to each other but ‘independently,’ no longer as two buddy pairs bounding with the other buddy pair as ‘alpha’ and ‘bravo’ – this is skirmishing, in the classic sense of a line of buddy pairs fighting through the enemy position on-line. This is the higher standard that I mentioned. We found that in the short time available to us in a Combat Team Tactics (now HEAT 1) class this was simply a step too far at the level students are at by then. As mentioned, this is a higher standard. So, we changed the taught drills to the US Army standard ‘assault through’ which is where from the final assault position, the team moves forward as a line, moving through the position on-line together until the Limit of Advance (LOA). Recall that you will only have got to that final assault position, that jump-off point for the assault-through, if you mainly had the enemy position suppressed as you bounded up to it.

        There is absolutely nothing wrong with the assault-through drill, and gives you something very workable at your standard of training. It is a good drill. But recall the context of this – you should ideally have a support by fire element as you maneuver on the enemy. You will only have got to the final assault position if you had the enemy suppressed, and by the time you assault onto the position, you should be finishing off wounded and suppressed (hiding) enemy as you move through to the LOA. This is why we use the pop-ups in conjunction with manikins on the assault objectives, to simulate suppression then finding enemy as you assault-through. Note: this is a basic drill for ‘enemy in the open’ and is not a ‘bunker drill.’

        So, in an advance to contact type attack, where the decision is made to go forwards and assault the enemy, you will be following the squad battle drills. You will react to the enemy fire, you will locate the enemy, and then attempt to win the firefight. Only if you can sufficiently win the firefight, by suppressing the enemy to some extent, will buddy rushes work to get you towards the enemy position, where you will then be able to either run an assault through drill, or break down into buddy pairs and skirmish through to the LOA. If you cannot sufficiently suppress, then you are not going forwards, without taking casualties. Classically, when you move, you will move by short rushes, from cover to cover, using fire and movement so that someone else is always providing you with covering fire. Cover fire should be delivered from a static person in cover, in a decent fire position, so that it is effective. On the rushes, we apply ‘I’m up, he sees me, I’m down’ (3-5 seconds, 5-7 yards) to reduce exposure to enemy fire. Even going prone, is better than being upright. So when do we fire on the move according the classic MVT SUT training? In a CQB environment, and on the assault through. An exception would be getting surprised by a hidden enemy while doing a rush, and thus you would be snap shooting on the run, which is not the same as the slow deliberate movement described at start of this article. In fact, there is an argument that on the assault through it should not be a deliberate movement, but a run through, to minimize exposure. We teach a slow and steady advance for training progression and safety reasons. SOF appear to currently be doing a slow and steady advance as what they prefer at this time.

        Now, the current Army method as described appears to have merits. If you have an isolated enemy position, perhaps like on a raid onto an enemy patrol base, and you can get it suppressed, using a support by fire element, then if you do slow moves forward in place of rushes, firing as you go, you can maintain a wall of fire at all times. My misgiving is due to the fact that the danger comes from depth and mutually supporting positions i.e. from enemy not suppressed in the identified position. This could be due to faulty recon, squirters, enemy outside the position on patrol, or a counter-attack. It is also dangerous in a more kinetic environment where you may have grazing fire and other factors which make being upright for long periods a problem.

        I think there might be a mindset of being ‘the big dog’ in the GWOT, where a lot of assets can be brought to bear to pummel a position, which can be effectively isolated and destroyed. Some teams have declined to do any break contact drills, because they “don’t break contact” whereas another group was adamant that they did the drills, particularly based on experiences of being hit by multiple enemy ambushes. Any BritMil experience from Helmand will tell you that the ability to break contact is a constant and essential. But if you are rolling with so many assets, you may never experience the factors of being an underdog. In fact the first Army team that trained at MVT did it as pre-deployment to a location where they could not expect the level of support they are used to in the GWOT, and they wanted to get back to solid infantry tactics. My concern is that as we face threats from, for example, North Korea and China, what if we become involved in a much more serious higher intensity conflict, where these current drills do not work. You only have to go back to the Falklands to see battles that were very similar to WWII, with entrenched enemy with machine-guns, artillery, and such, and where you had to take cover and crawl or you were going to get hit.

        I’m not going to throw out these new tactics, and I have to accommodate them anyway as we facilitate those that want to train them. I will be modifying the ranges with more target pits to make a better assault through position on both Tactical Range 1 & 2. This will be able to accept either the Army method as described, and the current teaching at MVT.

        I remain open minded, I can see the benefit of everyone firing even as they walk forward for a position that is suppressed with no depth or mutually support positions. I can see the benefit if you already took the time to suppress that position. I worry about depth, mutually supporting and unsuppressed enemy. I will not discard the benefit of the rush from cover to cover to minimize exposure, in particular where not all of the enemy are identified and suppressed all of the time. Mine and other experiences of coming under fire, and historical anecdote, tells me that other than returning fire, taking cover is extremely important, because if you remain standing you are likely to be hit. In a close contact situation where you are taken by surprise, can you locate and direct fire onto a hidden enemy so fast that you can suppress him without the need to take cover? Simply turning and walking into the ambush? I personally don’t believe it, unless the enemy is incompetent. Some of you will have seen me do a demonstration of an RTR drill dynamically, not by the numbers, to show how it would be done in a real contact situation. It is an immediate reaction and returning fire on the move as you move to cover. Once in cover, you will stand more of a chance of not being hit, and will be able to generate better fire onto identified enemy positions, or likely enemy positions (cover shooting). Then, you have a chance to win the firefight, seizing back the initiative, before either moving towards (attack), or away from (break contact), the enemy.

      • #95707
        JohnnyMac
        Participant

          Great topic Max!

          unless the enemy is incompetent

          I think a lot of the walking assault through hinges on this exact thing.

          A really incompetent enemy:
          -won’t understand/deploy depth positions (except by dumb luck maybe?)
          -won’t be capable of effective return fire, especially while taking heavy fire

          I’d personally feel uncomfortable estimating my enemy’s capabilities so low.

          It is important to note that you will not be able to advance on an enemy position by fire and movement unless you have it suppressed.

          Besides effective communication, the hardest thing to pull off for MVT students?

        • #95708
          Joe (G.W.N.S.)
          Moderator

            Very interesting thoughts.

            Current Army SOP’s have abandoned traditional SUT for the various CQB influenced methods.

            Why?

            It has worked against current GWOT enemies!

            My misgiving is due to the fact that the danger comes from depth and mutually supporting positions i.e. from enemy not suppressed in the identified position.

            Organic and supporting assets with a vast array of sensors/firepower and a enemy whose competence varies greatly have led to a false confidence. Sensors prevent most surprises and firepower quickly eliminates the rest. As Max notes in the following.

            I think there might be a mindset of being ‘the big dog’ in the GWOT, where a lot of assets can be brought to bear to pummel a position, which can be effectively isolated and destroyed.

            This false confidence will bite them in the rear end, again Max is correct in his concern.

            My concern is that as we face threats from, for example, North Korea and China, what if we become involved in a much more serious higher intensity conflict, where these current drills do not work.

            When organic and supporting assets are stretched too thin or even eliminated by a Force superior to our current GWOT opposition, the previous reliance on always having the upper hand will be tested.

            There is nothing wrong with using what works against the current threat!

            The question is will the U.S. Military have the tools from previous training to adapt to a greater threat?

            Or will they default to current status quo and have to relearn SUT after paying in blood for their lack of foresight?

            …because they “don’t break contact”…

            I find this arrogance particularly disturbing!

            …whereas another group was adamant that they did the drills, particularly based on experiences of being hit by multiple enemy ambushes.

            I am thankful that some are realistic.

            This is related to the overconfidence some who have survived combat demonstrate. It’s a combination of skill or lack of on both sides with a dose of luck/fate that tips the scale one way or the other.

            On which side of the scale was the survivor really weighed? ;-)

          • #95709
            veritas556
            Participant

              In so many of the GoPro videos from the GWOT, a recurring theme seems to be a difficulty/delay in locating enemy who have initiated fire. Particularly because they like to do so at extended ranges beyond their perceived limits of our small arms. Most of the videos (I’ve seen) are also in relatively open areas compared to say, the VTC or an intact suburban neighborhood.

              Outside of the obvious settings – QCB or no cover at all, it’s hard to imagine winning a firefight (on peer terms) without the prodigious use of cover as an asset. The engagement ranges in FOF were relatively close and even then sometimes difficult to quickly ascertain the source of fire.

              So the question.. just HOW hard is it to identify the source/direction of incoming fire AND is there really any way to train for this on the civilian side?

            • #95710
              Max
              Keymaster

                So the question.. just HOW hard is it to identify the source/direction of incoming fire AND is there really any way to train for this on the civilianl side?

                As old as time. We use observation, fire and movement. As in, we observe for ‘why things are seen’ including shape, shine etc and smoke/dust/movement. If that fails, you can cover shoot into likely cover. If you still need a response, you use short rushes to see if fire is prompted.

                This video is still really useful, and I use all the fiedlcraft skills in it:

                And of course:

              • #95711
                farmer
                Participant

                  The first film when the announcer is talking at 12:40. He says ” helmet, hessian ? ?, net, scrim ? ? , foliage.
                  ^ ^ sounds like “hessyand” . also scrim. is that similar to branches, twigs?

                • #95712
                  Brushpopper
                  Participant

                    Very good info, even from as old a videos as these! That last one taught me not to stand up when the enemy asks me to! ;-)
                    Good ole Monty Python!

                  • #95713
                    Max
                    Keymaster

                      Hessian is sacking, basically burlap I believe, doing the translation to ‘merican. Scrim is cut up strips, like you see on ghillie suits or some helmets. Can be made of hessian or any camo material.

                    • #95714
                      veritas556
                      Participant

                        Great videos. What a contrast in tactics compared to what you see in GWOT.

                      • #95715
                        hellokitty
                        Participant

                          I am aware of a retired SF fellow teaching SUT drills in La. He does this dry fire. But his SOPs for contact drills are more in line with MVT than the current SF team on video at MVT. He is old school. So that gives us a bit more evidence that CQB in GWOT has influenced SOF in these drills in support of Max’s article.

                          HEAT 1(CTT) X 3
                          HEAT 2 (CP) X1
                          FOF X3
                          OPFOR X2
                          CLC X2
                          RIFLEMAN

                        • #95716
                          tired-old-man
                          Participant

                            Very good info, even from as old a videos as these! That last one taught me not to stand up when the enemy asks me to! ;-)

                            The corollary :-) : “The first rule of Not Being Seen is:. BE SOMEWHERE ELSE!”

                          • #95717
                            Abacus
                            Participant

                              One of the reenactments/AARs of the Battle of Robert’s Ridge we studdied as cadets described a couple guys doing exactly what Max is talking about. The CCT interviewed talked about how he and his wingman advanced straight towards a bunker next to a pine tree. They basically walked up hill toward the enemy and took a knee to reload as they advanced. I don’t know if this was a tactic they were doing on purpose or if the terrain (a rocky mountain top with one or two trees) drove them to do it that way.

                              The Combat Controller interviewed did not die, and I don’t think his buddy did either. So it worked in that sense. There were however casualties both during and after the crash. The bunker was eventually neutralized by a CIA Hellfire after multiple strafing runs by manned fighters failed to silence it.

                            • #95718
                              Max
                              Keymaster

                                Although tactics evolve due to operational experience, informing training, and also training / competition in turn informs tactics, as a loop, my thought is that this wheel of evolution may have come off the axle at some point, perhaps due to specific GWOT experiences.

                                Now, there are plenty of people in the GWOT who have been deep in the shit and have had to roll ols school i.e. taking cover and correct SUT. But we all know that SOF are the cool guys and end up leading the direction of tactics in both the military, and across to the tacticool training side.

                                There is a thing called survivor bias, and ee always train the fight the last war. We may be in danger of learning, and going forward with, some of the wrong experiences from the GWOT.

                              • #95719
                                Max
                                Keymaster

                                  Funny how we used to laugh at the idea of Soviet conscripts dismounting from armor and advancing on line at the charge, all weapons firing. From about 9 minutes:

                                • #95720
                                  Max
                                  Keymaster

                                    Making my point about the Soviets:

                                  • #95721
                                    A_A_Ron2guns
                                    Participant

                                      Standing in the open is a good way to get dead. It was way back when we went from bows and arrows to muskets and it’s still true now.

                                      The first time I got lit up with an AK I went prone. If I’d have stood up and walked forward shooting I would have died.

                                      There’s a time and place for walk and shoot but it’s generally inside a building. The walking fire method died in WWII when we realized like Max said that everyone has friends and that bunker you’re walking up to has overwatch.

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